Two undisclosed figures in the bribery charge filed last week against the chief of staff for Ald. Howard Brookins were caught on undercover FBI recordings talking about the ease with which they expected to win Brookins' approval for a liquor license in his South Side ward.
The associates, identified only as individuals A and B, outlined a system in which aldermen and go-betweens are purportedly paid thousands of dollars to grease the liquor license application process, the charge against Curtis V. Thompson Jr. alleged.
In an unrecorded conversation, one claimed he could win approval even in wards saturated with liquor stores and where moratoriums on new licenses had been put in place, according to the complaint.
Individual A, a licensed expediter for the city and a friend of Thompson's, told Individual B in one recorded conversation that their connections should make the process in Brookins' ward go “real quick.” Individual B claimed to be friends with Brookins' father, a former state senator.
“That sounds to me like it's a slam dunk,” Individual A was quoted in the criminal complaint as saying.
The 32-page complaint, unsealed Friday, charged that Thompson, 62, accepted a $7,500 cash bribe from a real estate developer who as part of an undercover FBI ruse pretended to need a liquor license for a convenience store in the 21st Ward.
Brookins was not charged and denied any wrongdoing Friday. He said Monday he would have no further comment on the case.
In the end, Brookins' office backed a liquor license for the informant's store. But it was unclear from the complaint what Thompson did with the cash after allegedly taking the $7,500 from the 28-year-old developer outside the alderman's holiday party in December.
Among the intriguing details included from the 18-month investigation:
Individual A told the informant in a recorded conversation about fees purportedly charged by three other aldermen to get liquor licenses in their wards — as high as $10,000 by one.
Individual B told the informant some Chicago aldermen use committees or other “buffers” to deal with liquor license seekers so there is no direct line to track the bribe back to the alderman.
The informant paid Individual A $700 in undercover funds for the expediter's assistance in filing a false public document and also gave Individual B $1,000 cash provided by the FBI to alleviate concerns the informant wasn't going to pay up.
Brookins' father, former state Sen. Howard Brookins Sr., was recorded in several telephone calls, including one in which he assured Individual B he would not be cut out of the deal if he brought the informant to his son's ward office for a meeting “so they can see what the deal is.” He could not be reached for comment Monday.
According to court records, the informant first agreed to work with the FBI in 2008 after being indicted in an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme involving units at the Millennium Centre skyscraper in the River North neighborhood. The informant, who pleaded guilty last March, faces up to nine years in prison but is hoping for a sharply reduced sentence in return for his cooperation, court records show.
The FBI concocted a ruse in which the informant enlisted the help of Individual A to obtain liquor licenses in the wards of three undisclosed aldermen. Individual A told the informant that a liquor license typically required $7,500 for the alderman, sometimes disguised as a campaign contribution.
Individual A said he typically charged $15,000 to $20,000 on top of that for his assistance, but would do this job at a discount.
In August, individuals A and B were recorded talking about Brookins' ward as a potential target for a bribe. Three days later, Individual B called the informant to set it up, according to the complaint. In a later conversation, the two allegedly broke down payments totaling $17,500, including $5,000 each for individuals A and B and $7,500 for the alderman, the complaint alleged.
In late October, Individual B brought the informant to a meeting with Brookins, Thompson and two other aides at Brookins' office on South Ashland Avenue. He handed over the alleged bribe offer written on a Post-it note attached to an artistic rendering of his proposed convenience store.
In December, Thompson warned the informant he'd “come on strong with that (note) and everybody got nervous,” according to the complaint.
“You have to really realize the fact that we are definitely concerned,” Thompson was quoted as saying. “There's a lot of witch-hunting going on.”
At Brookins' office Christmas party on Dec. 19, the informant handed Thompson a card stuffed with 75 hundred-dollar bills that had been provided by the FBI. Thompson felt the red envelope and put it in his pocket, the complaint alleged.
“I really appreciate you, brother,” the complaint quoted him as saying before adding, “I do all the work with little acknowledgment, so I don't know how long I'm gonna be around.”